Camp Kesem: Round Four

During my four years of college, I dedicated a lot of my free time to Camp Kesem – a nonprofit organization that not only supports kids through and beyond their parent’s cancer, but builds character, empathy, and so much more in the college-student counselors. I met some of my best friends through the organization and made amazing memories. I truly built a foundation of support that acts like family. The people that make Kesem have personality traits that everyone dreams of and they all truly helped me become the best version of me.

Throughout the year, myself with the rest of the 90 or so volunteers would fundraise for the summer camp, plan the camp, engage the community, bond as a family and so much more. Then, the magical week came after the school year ended, where we would take hundreds of kids affected by their parent’s cancer to give them a week of fun every kid deserves and a safe space where they can talk about their adversity.

Being a summer camp counselor for Camp Kesem was always something I took pride in. I adore the people in the organization, stand by the mission, and strive to help those affected by cancer. This year volunteering as a counselor at Camp Kesem was my last. And this year, I truly feel that I left my heart at camp.

I have so so so many favorite memories from camp each year, but something special that always stays in my heart is our ceremony called ‘Empowerment’ where the counselors and campers go in a circle and say how we have all been affected by cancer. It’s always an emotional time where we cry so much that our eyes are swollen for at least two days. It’s one of those experiences where it is impossible to explain into words because it is that powerful.

ucdavisck2017wk1_DSC03825.jpeg

Even though this was my last year volunteering as a summer counselor, I know I will always be involved in Camp Kesem through different ways. To start, I’m serving on two universities’ Advisory Boards where I will be helping them find resources, networking, and giving them ideas on how to create the best support system for the kids!

IMG_4514.jpg

To find a camp close by to you: Find a Camp

To find volunteer opportunities: Get involved

To donate: Donate (donations are tax-deductible)

joenagraphyJNA_8327.jpeg

 

Advertisements

A Letter to My Dad: Post Grad

Dear Dad,

I did it! I graduated from college! As this day approached, I have had a plethora of emotions, both negative and positive. Lately, I have been throwing fits about different aspects of my life — my friends, my family, my education, my future, etc. While you were battling cancer, one of your biggest concerns was my future… you told everyone that, and not because you were worried I wasn’t going to be successful, but because you knew you were my person. You made it very clear that you wanted your circle of family and friends to take care of me and look over me. I get it — all you knew dying was that I was going to college for the next 4 years or so. Every time I think about my graduation ceremony, I immediately tear up because I wish you were going to be there. During the times I am supposed to be the happiest, I always miss you the most.

I know you immigrated from India to this country with nothing in your pockets when you were my age so you could give your daughters a better life and a priceless education. In these last four years without you, I accomplished a lot. I failed a lot too. But, I’m almost more proud of my failures. I joined a sorority and served on the leadership board for it. I studied abroad in Paris, and it was the best investment I ever made in myself! I ate a lot of bread, drank a lot of wine, and walked everywhere in the city. I went to India a few times — almost to look for you, but I found myself. I volunteered countless hours to the cancer community and Camp Kesem and also served on the leadership board for them. I had a minimum wage making job throughout college to pay for my coffee and shoe addiction. I didn’t start off college with the best GPA, but I only improved and even made it on the dean’s honor list a few times. I had some internships in the finance industry and now I’m officially entering as an analyst at BlackRock!!! I met my goal of getting a competitive and intelligent job after college six months before graduating! I did a lot. I missed you a lot. I still miss you a lot. I cried a lot. I laughed a lot. I loved a lot. I hated a lot. I fell down. I made mistakes. I got back up. I fell some more. I grew and I did it. I thought I couldn’t do it without you. All the decisions I had to make, all the struggles I had to overcome, all the boys I had to let go of… I wanted to call you so badly. I wanted to ask you your opinion on what classes I should take. I wanted you to help me with my job applications and prepare me for the rigorous interviews. I wanted you to meet my boyfriends. I wanted to cry to you about the boys that broke my heart. I wanted you to see me go off to college. I wanted you to see me graduate. But, I still did it. I did it, Dad and I hope I’m making you proud.

Endless love,

Your Lulu

Congrats to all the 2017 graduates!

IMG_9869

Joenagraphy_JNA_5004Joenagraphy_JNA_5233Joenagraphy_JNA_5399

Camp Kesem’s Make the Magic 2017

Throughout these last 4 years of coping with my father’s death to cancer, I have gained a passion for helping the cancer community out in any way I can. I am highly involved in an organization called Camp Kesem. Camp Kesem is a non-profit organization that supports kids through and beyond their parent’s cancer. I have been volunteering since my freshmen year of college, but I never really yearned for a leadership role in the position. My freshmen year I was really lost in myself. My sophomore and junior I was extremely focused on obtaining a career in the finance realm. The months approaching my senior year, I felt accomplished and ready to tackle something I have never tried before — event planning. I served on the leadership board to plan our gala event called Make the Magic. During this gala, we invite family, friends, community members, camper families to help us raise tens of thousands of dollars to fund our free summer camp for the kids. The event consists of a silent auction, a live dessert auction, a paddle raise, seated dinner, speeches, and more.

It took me about 9 months, hundreds of hours, an abundant amount of stress, and loads of tears to plan, but it was all worth it. I learned a lot about myself, including the type of stress I can handle, how much stress I can handle, the types of people I work well with, the types of people I do not work well with, and my true and honest passion for Camp Kesem. The event was beyond successful and there is nothing I would change. As a chapter, we raised a total of $78,957.94! I could not be more proud of myself and the chapter as a whole. I had an amazing team supporting me through every step of the way.

Apart from planning the event, I had the opportunity to speak about my story. Watch my speech. It was a heart-warming experience and I am so thankful for the opportunity.

Now I am weeks away from graduating and closing the chapter of my college education and opening the chapter of moving to a new city and starting a job as a wealth advisory analyst. Even though my time volunteering for Camp Kesem as a college student is ending, I have been accepted to advise Camp Kesem at a different chapter. I am so excited for the opportunity and for everything the future holds!

Some photos (Brady Nations Photography) from Make the Magic 2017:

Happy Birthday, Daddy: Part Four

Dear Dad,

Today is one of my favorite days — it’s my day to celebrate you! Happy birthday! Even though it’s been four years without you, you still hold the number one place in my heart. I think of you every single day, I strive to remember you when you were healthy, and I still love you with all of my heart. As I am growing up and maturing in new ways, I am realizing that you are the first person I ever fell in love with. You always made me feel safe, loved, and happy.

IMG_5403.jpg

I miss you more in April and May — everything reminds me of you and triggers some sort of feeling. I am currently in this transitional place in my life. In a few months, I will be graduating from college and entering the ‘real world’. I’m scared to keep moving on with my life without you by my side. In college, I felt some sense of security with adults watching over me and guiding me but as I enter adulthood, I hope I am making you proud. Happy birthday, dad — miss you more than anything.

Lots of Love,

Your Lulu

I Went to India Looking For My Dad…But Found Myself

Over the last 3.5 years or so without my dad in my life, I have visited India 3 times. My first trip to India was shortly after his passing, the point being to pay my respects to his immediate family – his mom, dad, and brother – and his enormous extended family. The following trip was solo. This was especially special to me because for the first time in my life, I traveled to different parts of India and truly bonded with my dad’s family. I also dove into learning more about my parent’s religion. My most recent trip was in December. I traveled through other parts of India again and thoroughly enjoyed every minute spent there. I adventured and dove into the culture to leave my comfort zone. I finally felt a sense of security and safety in what to me was once a foreign country.

Each trip, I made amazing memories and true connections with my family members – connections I never had living on the other side of the world away from most of my family. Each trip, I went almost looking for my dad and looking for the answers to my thousands of questions. I wanted so desperately to find out why my dad left me. Although I will never get the answer to that question, I got so many more answers. I went to India to learn more about my dad, but I learned more about myself. Each trip led me to exponential growth. Each trip taught me more about myself. While looking for my dad in India and while getting lost, I found myself. 

Ever since my dad passed away, I have been looking for some sense of security. Losing a parent at the vulnerable age of 18 made me believe the world was insecure and evil. It made me insecure about myself as a whole and about my decisions regarding various things. Traveling abroad, especially to a country with generations of family, connections, and memories gave me that sense of security. I was born and raised in this country, but I find myself feeling homesick from India. I am so thankful for all of my experiences and my opportunities to travel. I cannot wait for my next trip and the new discoveries I make!

 

Here are some of my favorite pictures from my last trip:

What Another Death in my Dad’s Family Did to Me

In the last few months, I lost three grandparents. Within 8 days in August, I lost two of my grandparents (https://copingwithcancer.org/2016/10/24/what-losing-two-grandparents-within-8-days-after-losing-a-parent-taught-me/). Days before Thanksgiving, my other grandmother passed away – my dad’s mom. My dad’s mom was always the light of my life. I saw so much of my dad in her — their contagious smiles, their unconditional love for our family, and their warm and gentle hearts. After I found out she wasn’t doing too well and was admitted to the hospital, I immediately felt my heart sink. A few days later, she passed away. Initially, I felt numb and I felt like another part of my dad was gone. Of course, this isn’t true… but that is how I felt and still feel. I fully understand that at the age I am, grandparents are bound to naturally deteriorate and get sick. I also fully understand that this part of life. I wish I could have seen my dad’s parents one last time and get a few more favorite stories of my dad before they had to go. Although I feel so much heartbreak, I now know that I have three more guardian angels looking down at me, always and forever.

Happy #GivingTuesday!

Today is one of the best days of the year – #GivingTuesday. #GivingTuesday is worldwide philanthropic movement to push for donations after a materialistic weekend with Black Friday and Cyber Monday. As many know, I dedicate my free time to Camp Kesem. Camp Kesem is a non-profit organization that supports kids aged 6-16 years old through and beyond their parent’s cancer. There are over 3 million kids that have been touched by their parent’s cancer.

Camp Kesem is full of amazing, selfless, mature, and genuine volunteers that have all faced adversity and have a heart full of love ready to help these kids. I joined this organization my freshmen year of college (just months after losing my dad to cancer) and now as a senior in college, I reflect on my college career and I have no doubt that Camp Kesem saved my life. I met other college students and kids of all ages that understand me in ways others cannot. I have met some of my best friends through this organization and made amazing memories. Learn more about Camp Kesem: http://campkesem.org/

My chapter’s goal is to raise $15,000 on #GivingTuesday and $150,000 throughout this year. Please help me reach my goal to help these kids who have been affected by cancer by donating: https://donate.kesem.org/fundraise?fcid=787614

Until there’s a cure, there’s a camp. 

What Losing Two Grandparents within 8 Days (After Losing a Parent) Taught Me

Towards the end of the summer, while I was mentally preparing for my final year of college, I lost two grandparents within 8 days — my dad’s dad and my mom’s mom.

When I first found out my grandpa passed away, my immediate thought was that my dad has somebody there with him now. I told some family members and close friends about my immediate thought and all of them said something along the lines of, “Wow, that’s such a great way of looking at this.” I was able to digest both of my grandparent’s deaths much easier compared to my father’s death. Realistically, I will never be able to fully digest and grasp my father’s death because in my eyes it was an unfair, painful, and tragic death that he, nor my family, did not deserve. Of course losing anyone in your life is a tough battle that no one deserves. I was able to accept the fact that my grandparents lived a full, happy, and healthy life. Neither of their deaths happened to be too painful and I am so very thankful for that. Knowing my dad suffered and knowing he was in so much pain during the final months of his life will always kill me inside. Every single time I think about the pain he was in, I feel sick to my stomach and somehow blame myself.

Losing my father before two of my grandparents taught me even more about life. It taught me that everyone has their time to ‘go’; everyone has an expiration date in this life we live. I will always question sickness and death, but my life experiences have taught me how to deal with it. After I saw my mom lose my dad three years ago, and then lose her mom this last summer, I knew how to comfort her. I knew what she needed and I knew I had to support her and other members in our family, just like how all of my family members supported me (and still support me) through my dad’s death. I will always miss my grandparents but I know they are resting easy, and I feel so much comfort knowing my dad has some company now, too.

My Magical Week: Camp Kesem 2016

As many know, I dedicate all of my free time to an organization that supports kids who have been affected by a parent’s cancer, Camp Kesem. Camp Kesem has changed my life in so many positive ways. I have found mentors who I trust telling every detail in my life to and some of my best friends.

This year I was the unit leader for the teenage girls, aged 15-16 years. I feel so humbled and blessed to not only to get to know the girls that were in my unit, but also to be a mentor, friend, and role model to them.

 

I have an amazing and selfless support system, consisting of friends and family, who truly took care of me while my dad was sick and during his passing. My support system stopped their lives to take care of my mom, my sister, and myself. I know that I can still rely on them for whatever hurdles I have to overcome. My dad’s close friends and family are always so open to talking about my dad and about cancer when I need a therapeutic and valuable conversation to uplift any negative feelings.

After volunteering my time to Camp Kesem for the last three years, I have realized that not everyone has a support system like mine. This realization pushes me even more to dedicate my time, energy, and feelings to these kids who are in dire need of a support system, or someone to just listen to them vent about the adversity they face.

Screen Shot 2016-06-19 at 7.23.49 PM.png

Our camp advisor, Baloney, explains Camp Kesem as the revenge on cancer. When she told me that, it really stuck with me and now that is how I explain Kesem to others. Camp Kesem is a safe place for kids to have fun and be kids again, but more importantly a chance for them to talk about to about cancer and their feelings about the deadly disease.

I felt such a deep connection to the kids in my unit and to the new counselors that have joined the Kesem family! I remember when I was a freshman and sophomore, I would look up to the older counselors with the utmost respect (and continue to do so) and after growing up with Kesem, I finally feel like I am becoming a mentor to the new counselors. These post-camp feels make me rejuvenated with a happy heart! I am so beyond thankful for the experience and I cannot wait until next year!

Father’s Day… I Survived Another One

Happy Father’s Day to all the amazing, inspiring, strong fathers out there! I am so thankful for all of the father figures I have. Thankfully, the last two Father’s Days I have been volunteering at Camp Kesem so I was distracted from the pain of not having a dad to celebrate. Today I spent the day with my dad’s family at a winery. I had the perfect day and I am forever thankful for the support system I have. Of course, I wish I had my dad so I could celebrate him and his amazing soul, but I have so many father figures to celebrate. I would say the hardest part of Father’s Day is watching everyone post about their dad on social media. On days like this, it is best to stay off of social media and stay busy! Happy Father’s Day again to all the dads out there!

 

Screen Shot 2016-06-19 at 6.25.35 PM.png

My dad’s family and I celebrating Father’s Day at a winery!

 

 

Three Years Later: My Broken Heart

Today is my dad’s three year death anniversary. I still feel the broken heart. I think of my dad and his lively personality and selfless heart and genuine smile, and I feel a broken heart. There are no words to describe this feeling, but all I know is that my heart is broken. It is so broken. I still miss my dad so much and I wish I knew how to cope with this feeling. Sometimes I cope by trying to keep myself so ridiculously busy so I just numb out the pain and sometimes I try so hard to feel my feelings and cry everything out. No matter what coping mechanism I use, I still feel my broken heart.

I feel my heart sink every single time I think about the pain my dad was in. I feel my heart sink every time I have the urge to call him (which has been quite frequent recently). I feel my heart sink knowing he won’t be there for the major life events. I feel my heart sink knowing that so many people go through this.

Three years later, my heart continues to sink and I continue to miss my best friend.

The last three years have flown by, but there are those days where I feel like everything is going by so slow and my grief is so deep and my pain is indescribable. Despite it all, I am still so proud of myself. In the last three years, I have accomplished so much for my academic and professional life, while learning so much about personal growth and my soul. I wish I could share all of it with my dad. Every single day when I’m walking to class, or work, or extracurriculars, I have this urge to call him. I keep staring at my phone secretly hoping I’ll see his name pop up calling me.

Although I take pride in the person I am today, there are so many days where I want to throw in the towel. Sometimes I am just so exhausted from…school, jobs, internships, and life.

Three years later, and I still need time to grieve. I still need time to digest all my life changes. 

I hate to admit it, but much of my anger has yet to disappear. I have triggers that really set me off and I wish I could control it, but I cannot. Some of the smallest things make me so upset, or sad, or emotional. I am still pretty sensitive and I noticed as soon as my dad passed away, I became so sensitive, self-conscious and lost all of my self-esteem. Although my self-esteem is slowly but surely coming back, I am now struggling with aspects of life that I never used to struggle with.

Three years later, and I am trying to find the self-esteem that was lost. 

Three years later and I am still grieving. Like I have written about before, grief doesn’t get easier but you get stronger. In the grand scheme of things, three years really isn’t that long. I take full pride in the person I am today. I am still as motivated and driven to constantly give back to the cancer community. At the end of the day, I am so happy with who I am, the people in my life, and how everything has panned out. Days like today push me to do some extra reflection and I am just so thankful!

Three years later, I still feel the broken heart, but I continue to grieve in a healthy way and progressively move forward with the amazing life I was blessed with. 

 
Today I had a picnic in SF and thought only the happiest thoughts about my dad.  

DNR: It’s Not Just a Form

DNR – It stands for Do Not Resuscitate. The DNR was created to help patients during terminal illness and it basically declines the patients of life-saving measures. I watched my mom sign this form the day my dad was admitted to hospice care and didn’t really understand it, but also didn’t have the energy to ask any questions about it.

Only later during the minutes of my father’s death, I understood what my dad told my mom to sign. It took my awhile to comprehend why my dad made this decision (and why mom supported it), and now I see how selfish I was being. I wanted my dad to live longer, but he was in so much excruciating pain. Of course he didn’t want to be living in more pain and now that I understand that and the point of a DNR, I feel much more at peace.

 

Signing a DNR is a patient’s choice. My recommendation is to support your parent or loved one in whatever decision they make. The sooner you realize the point of a DNR and where your parent/loved one stands on it, the situation becomes easier to cope with and the death becomes more peaceful.

Happy Birthday, Daddy: Part Three

Dear Dad,

Happy birthday! I miss you… I miss you so much every single day. Your birthday has always been an emotional day for me because it reminds me of your amazing personality and how much I want you back in my life. Around this time of year I can feel my broken heart.

IMG_9776

I really want you to know that I’m finally happy (or at least getting there). I tried so hard these past couple of years to be happy for you, but now I’m happy for me. I feel like I’m focusing on my life and my future finally. I’m living for me. In the past few years I felt like everything I was doing, I was doing for you and now in the past few months, everything I do, I do for me. Of course I always have you in the back of my mind in all my actions and thoughts and of course I miss you deeply, but I also really missed myself during these past few years. The part of me that died with you is finally coming alive again, and that is my birthday present to you. I know this is what you would have wanted. I can’t wait to see you again, happy birthday!

XO,

Lu

 

2 Years of Cancernomics + 27 Days of Canculture

27 days. I had 27 days from the time I found out my dad was going to die until the moment he took his last breath. 2 years earlier, my dad was diagnosed with fourth stage colorectal cancer in May of 2011. There are two costs that come with a cancer diagnosis – the financial cost and the emotional cost. There’s the price of the overly expensive chemotherapy drugs, surgeries and weekly doctor appointments. And then there is the price of pain and grief. Apart from these costs, there is another underlying factor that is often overlooked: culture. Cultural differences are conveyed uniquely within cancer-affected families and furthermore, America’s money-driven culture is clearly exemplified through healthcare costs and policies.

 

The United States spends up to $2 trillion annually on healthcare, about 18% of the nation’s gross domestic product and more than any other developed country. The costs are highest at the time of the diagnosis and towards the end of the patient’s life when the cancer is declared as terminal. According to the American Cancer Society, the U.S. spent $88.7 billion on cancer medical costs in 2011, 50% of which was spent on hospital and doctor visits, 35% on hospital stays and 11% on prescription drugs.

The economics of palliative care is much different than that of the cancer diagnosis. Palliative care costs consider other factors because this is a time where the doctors, the patient and the patient’s family have decided to stop treatment and rather focus on pain relief, in hopes of creating a sense of comfort during the last stages of life. 10% to 12% of health care spending is allocated to hospice care.

Many disease-fighting drugs have patents, mechanically creating a monopoly for a medication that should not be exploited if the creators have a heart whatsoever. Last September, Daraprim, a drug that fights cancer and AIDS, increased in price by 5,000% from $13.50 to $750 per pill, according to NBC News. Impax Laboratories (IPXL) acquired CorePharma, who originally created and owned the drug. After the $700 million acquisition, Impax Laboratories decided to surge the price of Daraprim. IPXL is a profit-seeking company that trades on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) for about $34 per share. IPXL also acquired Tower Holdings, Inc. and Lineage Therapeutics Inc. After studying the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that was filed for 2014’s fiscal year, it is evident that the CEO, G. Frederick Wilkinson, walked away with a salary of $862,793, 50% more than the rest of the executives, not including bonuses. However, with the 17% ownership of stocks that Wilkinson has, he truly walked away with $12,978,870 last year. In 2014, the company reported revenues of $596 million; with the latest price increases, IPXL’s 2015 revenue will increase by at least 35% purely from the increased prices of necessary drugs for cancer-stricken patients.

 

In my personal experiences, my family and I were willing to do anything, in hopes of giving my dad another day of life. My dad’s top-notch oncologist, Dr. Cabebe was experimenting different chemotherapies on his body causing severe side effects, side effects that created mouth sores, side effects that caused his skin to peel off of his hands and feet, side effects that made him throw up consecutively for three days after chemotherapy sessions, side effects that weakened his body. The excruciating mouth sores prevented him from eating any sort of food. Dr. Cabebe recommended a liquid medication to diminish this side effect. Unfortunately, our insurance didn’t cover the bottle of medicine. My family and I were at a point where we felt it was necessary to do everything in our power to give my dad the most comfortable life possible, despite the price; we paid for the medicine.

Cancer took my dad away from me, but it also created a lifestyle change, a lifestyle change that has reshaped my values and opinions on life and moreover, taught me the complex economics behind cancer.

 

As mentioned, the first cost of cancer that everyone considers is the chemotherapy medicines, hospital bills and doctor visits. But the cost of the pain and grief is something most families don’t take into account. There are so many sacrifices to be made when a cancer diagnosis comes into play. After facing this hardship, it is clear that the pain never goes away, but families become stronger. The pain of my dad’s death will never leave my soul, but I have gained strength. I have learned how to deal with my feelings in a healthy way. I have learned who cares about my pain and grief. I have learned who genuinely wants to help me get through the toughest of times. Grief cannot be explained in words or showed in monetary terms. It’s a heart-wrenching feeling that portrays the price of love. There is no humanly possible way to ‘get over’ the death of a loved one, especially after seeing him/her sick and suffer for a long period of time. Terminal cancer patients’ loved ones usually start their grief during the hospice days because during this time, the patient is slowly dying every single day; their bodies deteriorate; they sleep as much, if not more than infants; their organs start to fail and eventually their heart cannot beat anymore.

Everyday I witnessed my dad’s body weaken and smelled his rotting body. I remember him asking me to massage his legs and the second that I applied pressure with just one finger I could feel the fluids running through his body; it was like squishing gelatin. That is when my grief started.

 

Not only do the two costs play a factor into one’s cancer story, but culture also shapes cancer stories. The cultural aspect is something I never expected to conflict with, until my dad passed away. Most Hindu families transport the deceased body to India to perform the cremation ceremony and immediately disperse the ashes in the holy Ganges River. Instead, all of my uncles flew from India the second my dad’s heart stopped beating. Two days later, we cremated my dad’s body near our home. My dad’s brother, my mom, my sister and I pushed the button that took his body into the cremation machine. My uncles flew back to India and pocketed his ashes to scatter into the holy Ganges River as soon as possible to follow Hindu traditions.

unnamed

Pictured is my mom, myself, my sister and my uncle in our backyard during my dad’s funeral. 

The cost of the pain and grief cancer carries is indescribable and cannot be quantified. The more apparent expenses of cancer, including the hospitals, doctors and more, cost the U.S. over $88 billion annually. Although the financial burden, emotional pain and cultural differences bring so much more pain to a cancer diagnosis than anticipated, it also unlocks different perspectives. It matures patients and care takers. Through my adversity, I have discovered more about the meaning of life and what I value in my life and culture. Despite any sorrow I have faced, I will always be thankful for my experiences because each one has taught me something different about my life, my culture and myself. Cancer unveils cultural collisions that are buried beneath family dynamics, especially immigration. I would have never guessed how the financial burden of cancer, the emotional pain and cultural differences play a role in disease and death.

Grief Doesn’t Get Easier…You Get Stronger

I wish I could tell everyone that loses a parent at such a vulnerable age, that the pain becomes easier to cope with. I wish I could tell them the pain goes away… but it doesn’t. The pain will always stay with you. But there is a silver lining, and it’s that you will get stronger.

I have been going through so many changes in my personal life lately and figuring out what I really want in my life (hence the lack of recent blog posts). I’ve also been unbelievably  focused on my career goals over the last couple of months and through that, I brought myself to believe that I was completely done grieving. I kept telling myself to get back to the ‘old’ me. I kept pushing myself to my limit every time I was feeling low. I kept believing that my time for grieving was over. But in the last few weeks, I realized that the grief does not go away, nor does it get easier. I realized I can never go back to the ‘old’ me. The ‘old’ me had a different life – I was in high school with two parents. I didn’t have so many stresses of the real world. Due to the family dynamic changes and the move to college, there would never be an ‘old’ me again. I’m now coming to the conclusion that I’m making a ‘new’ me. I am making my life and figuring out who I want to be and what values I hold. I am figuring out how to create a career for myself. I am defining my own happiness.

 

Lately, I’ve been keeping my grieving moments more and more to myself. I can also finally talk about my dad in a positive and normal way. I don’t feel like I’m stepping on eggshells anymore. I always used to feel guilty talking about my dad to others because I thought I was putting friends/family in an awkward situation. And sometimes I still feel that, but I’ve learned how to get past that feeling of guilt. I’ve learned who I can talk to about my dad and I learned who genuinely cares about my feelings and my pain. I still break down about him and I still dream about him all the time, but I am so much happier with who I am and where I am in my life. Although I am still trying to figure a few things here and there, I’m finally starting to see my victories as accomplishments and my failures as steps to success. I have finally defined what happiness means to me. I can confidently say I have gotten stronger when it comes to dealing with grief and adversity. I’ve learned what I can handle and what I need to be able to get through tough times.

 

The most important thing is to take care of yourself and your mental health. I do what makes my soul smile and my heart happy, and I don’t care if I disappoint somebody or if somebody judges me for that anymore. Remember that you define your happiness and you are the only person who knows what you need. Realizing this, will help deal with any grief or adversity and make you stronger.

Writing Saved My Life

Writing saved my life. After my I lost my dad, I didn’t know how to have a conversation about anything else other than cancer, chemotherapy, hospice, and death. People constantly kept asking me questions about those and only those topics. No one in my family and close circle of friends were asking me about graduating from high school, or even starting the next major chapter of my life — college. And, so I kept answering those cancer-related questions time after time, and slowly my answers started sounding like they were coming from a monotonous, lifeless robot. Constantly hearing and answering heartbreaking questions at 18 years old made me think that this whole cancer thing was a societal norm. It’s only years later that I’m now starting to realize, that all of those questions and answers (which is just a small aspect of an ugly cancer death) is not normal for an 18 year old.

I felt like I couldn’t vent to anyone about my negative feelings and thoughts; but I never wanted to forget my goal, which was and still is, to always cope in the most healthy way possible.

I’ve always had an interest in blogs, especially blogs geared towards fashion and chic lifestyle enthusiasts, but I never thought about starting one myself. I actually tried to stay away from reading and writing about cancer at first, because everything I found to read about cancer was about the technical and scientific terms that I honestly didn’t care about at the moment. I was so tired of reading about the science of cancer. But cancer isn’t just about science and medicine because cancer doesn’t just cause bad cells. It causes emotions and heartbreak, strength and perseverance, hope and faith. Doctors, researchers, and scientists are always so proud for publishing cancer research in publications, which is groundbreakingly awesome because these findings provide a foundation for the advanced medicine and technology used on patients. But, what about the other half of the cancer story? The struggles, the tears, the fear, the depression, and so much more. I wanted to be the writer to the other half of the cancer story — the half that isn’t written about much.

So, I started writing because I felt like no one understood my pain, but more importantly, I didn’t want anyone else to feel as alone as I did. I started blogging just three months after my dad lost his battle…and then, my writing story goes on from there.

Writing saved my life. My blog was my best friend during my worst times. I could always count on my Macbook or my journal and fancy, ballpoint pen. Writing saved my life when no one else could — and I am forever grateful I found my favorite coping mechanism.

And for those struggling with finding their favorite coping mechanism:

I highly suggest trying to let your emotions out in a creative way — writing, painting, dancing, and the list goes on. You will then start to see the light during these dark times.

Another Magical Week at Camp Kesem: 2015 Edition

This past school year was my second year being involved in Camp Kesem. I had such an amazing time at camp this year, but unfortunately I had no time to write about it! Right after camp, I went to Chicago for a professional business conference — the vibes changed so fast for me! And directly from there, I went to Paris for my study abroad courses and traveled a little bit after that!

So, back to camp now…camp this year was incredible! I definitely got more out of camp this year in terms of my personal self and goals. It’s safe to say my sophomore year had it’s ups and downs, but it all led to stronger and deeper friendships within camp for me!

Purple Unit!

Purple Unit!

All the camp counselors!

All the camp counselors!

This year I felt a stronger connection with more kids, which was so rewarding! It was so fun seeing all of my campers from last year as well. Being apart of this rat-race type of life is overwhelming and exhausting, and camp is an escape from all of that. At camp, I’m surrounded by real people with real problems. I don’t have my phone to be updating my Twitter and seeing what my peers are up to on Instagram. I’m not anticipating for midterm grades that will mean nothing in my life in the long run. I’m not stressing over internship applications. I’m not even bothered by my own mediocre and trivial problems. I am just making sure every child at camp is having the best time and attempting to make an impact in their life. I’m reaching out to an overlooked demographic while also growing as an individual. One of my favorite things about camp is that one is so disconnected from the rest of the world, but so connected to inspiring individuals (counselors and campers) on a whole new level. Giving back to society, especially being so involved with Camp Kesem, is what gets me through the hardest times, and I can’t wait for camp next year!

To learn more about Camp Kesem check out my blog post from last year: https://copingwithcancer.org/2014/07/01/my-magical-week-at-camp-kesem/

To donate to Camp Kesem Davis: http://campkesem.org/ucdavis/donate-to-ucd

Father’s Day – An Open Letter

Dear friends,

Happy Father’s Day – I was honestly inspired because I knew what was coming my way on Sunday. I was going to wake up to a flood of dad pics through social media feeds and a couple texts from family and friends. So, there are a few things I want you to know as we celebrate our fathers and father figures. See, I don’t feel the same pain that I used to on holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, and days like Father’s Day. I was always told that grief is the worst in its first year but I want you to know it’s just not as sharp. Now the loss of my father feels like a dull pounding. It’s not something that necessarily feels bigger or hurts more on Father’s Day but it’s something that throbs almost every single day. It’s the reaction to watching dads hold their baby’s hand on the street that makes me cry without realizing it. It’s the feeling I get trying to do my taxes or build furniture. It’s the urge to call my dad after my first week at a new job and it’s what makes me shake when I’m scared. It’s also a feeling that makes me smile when my friends tell me stories about their dads. It’s what makes me write cards to my mom and call all my uncles. It’s the emotion that drives me to make him proud every single day. The throbbing doesn’t just remind me that he’s gone but that he’s alive with what I choose to do and how I choose to do it. I talk to strangers (when it seems safe) because my dad did it and I don’t take things too seriously because really, I can’t think of a time my dad ever did. I try to make a difference because my dad did for countless people. Most of all, I try to live life to its fullest, even with that throbbing, because my dad lived every day like it was his last. A lot of who I am (for good and bad) is because of my dad and a lot of who you are is because of your dad. This is why Sunday isn’t the only day to celebrate your father and father figures – it should be everyday. It’s the little things that you do and say where you take after him. It’s something to be thankful for and something to put into words. Time is so valuable; it’s never too early or late to celebrate what makes life precious, like our fathers. And with that, I send everyone I know my best Father’s Day wishes and love.

Sincerely,

Devika (Samira’s sister)

The Last Two Years of My Grief

Today marks the two year anniversary of my dad’s death. These last two years of grief have been unexpectedly exhausting.

After I lost my dad, I felt like I was in a mental state ready to grieve, like it was a goal I was trying to accomplish. I recently realized grief is not a goal to accomplish, it is a state to adjust to and a feeling to feel. I realized that my pain and grief will probably never stop, it will just change over time.

Soon after my dad’s death, I read all about the 5 stages of grief. According to the famous Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, the five stages of grief are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I thought that if I went through the denial, anger, bargaining, and depression I would have to reach that acceptance. Oh, was I wrong. I went through a lot of denial, and maybe I’m still going through it. I went through a lot of anger and depression, something that I know I am still going through. All I knew was that I was so tired of going through these negative emotions. I wanted to know that all of this would lead me to acceptance and happiness. I thought that accepting the fact that I wasn’t happy would somehow lead to happiness. But, it’s such a roller coaster. I wouldn’t really say that there has been much smooth sailing, especially because I got so fragile. My heart already cracked when my dad was diagnosed with cancer and then immediately shattered when he passed away. It took every ounce of strength to tape my heart back together. But because all of the other major events going on in my life (like going to college and moving houses) I had to use really weak tape. So, when something bad happens to me that really isn’t a big deal, I would see it as a big deal and pieces of tape would fall off. I am only now learning how to cope with this.

Last year, I knew something was missing in my life and I missed my dad so much. I wanted to tell him everything that was happening in my life and I tried to make him proud of me. But, this year I feel heartache and sadness. I try to eat healthy, get a full night’s sleep, and do something everyday that makes me happy to cope with this heartache.

They say that young kids don’t understand that death is final and irreversible, but even when I was 18 years old I did not understand that. I kept expecting to see my dad pop up somewhere. I kept thinking that I would go home for the weekend from college, and he would be there waiting to greet me. I would day dream of my dad popping up in my life. Occasionally I still day dream, but not so much anymore.

I might have made some ‘mistakes’ and fell down a couple times, but I strongly believe that if I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have grown in these last two years, especially this last year.